The Spirit of the Age: Mr. Coleridge by William Hazlitt

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The present is an age of talkers, and not of doers; and the reason is, that the world is growing old. We are so far advanced in the Arts and Sciences, that we live in retrospect, and doat on past atchievements. The accumulation of knowledge has been so great, that we are lost in wonder at the height it has reached, instead of attempting to climb or add to it; while the variety of objects distracts and dazzles the looker-on. What niche remains unoccupied? What path untried? What is the use of doing anything, unless we could do better than all those who have gone before us? What hope is there of this? We are like those who have been to see some noble monument of art, who are content to admire without thinking of rivalling it; or like guests after a feast, who praise the hospitality of the donor "and thank the bounteous Pan"—perhaps carrying away some trifling fragments; or like the spectators of a mighty battle, who still hear its sound afar off, and the clashing of armour and the neighing of the war-horse and the shout of victory is in their ears, like the rushing of innumerable waters!

Mr. Coleridge has "a mind reflecting ages past:" his voice is like the echo of the congregated roar of the "dark rearward and abyss" of thought. He who has seen a mouldering tower by the side of a chrystal lake, hid by the mist, but glittering in the wave below, may conceive the dim, gleaming, uncertain intelligence of his eye: he who has marked the evening clouds uprolled (a world of vapours), has seen the picture of his mind, unearthly, unsubstantial, with gorgeous tints and ever-varying forms—

"That which was now a horse, even with a thought
 The rack dislimns, and makes it indistinct
 As water is in water."

Our author's mind is (as he himself might express it) tangential. There is no subject on which he has not touched, none on which he has rested. With an understanding fertile, subtle, expansive, "quick, forgetive, apprehensive," beyond all living precedent, few traces of it will perhaps remain. He lends himself to all impressions alike; he gives up his mind and liberty of thought to none. He is a general lover of art and science, and wedded to no one in particular. He pursues knowledge as a mistress, with outstretched hands and winged speed; but as he is about to embrace her, his Daphne turns—alas! not to a laurel! Hardly a speculation has been left on record from the earliest time, but it is loosely folded up in Mr. Coleridge's memory, like a rich, but somewhat tattered piece of tapestry . we might add (with more seeming than real extravagance), that scarce a thought can pass through the mind of man, but its sound has at some time or other passed over his head with rustling pinions. On whatever question or author you speak, he is prepared to take up the theme with advantage—from Peter Abelard down to Thomas Moore, from the subtlest metaphysics to the politics of the Courier. There is no man of genius, in whose praise he descants, but the critic seems to stand above the author, and "what in him is weak, to strengthen, what is low, to raise and support:" nor is there any work of genius that does not come out of his hands like an Illuminated Missal, sparkling even in its defects. If Mr. Coleridge had not been the most impressive talker of his age, he would probably have been the finest writer; but he lays down his pen to make sure of an auditor, and mortgages the admiration of posterity for the stare of an idler. If he had not been a poet, he would have been a powerful logician; if he had not dipped his wing in the Unitarian controversy, he might have soared to the very summit of fancy. But in writing verse, he is trying to subject the Muse to transcendental theories: in his abstract reasoning, he misses his way by strewing it with flowers. All that he has done of moment, he had done twenty years ago: since then, he may be said to have lived on the sound of his own voice. Mr. Coleridge is too rich in intellectual wealth, to need to task himself to any drudgery: he has only to draw the sliders of his imagination, and a thousand subjects expand before him, startling him with their brilliancy, or losing themselves in endless obscurity—

"And by the force of blear illusion,
 They draw him on to his confusion."

What is the little he could add to the stock, compared with the countless stores that lie about him, that he should stoop to pick up a name, or to polish an idle fancy? He walks abroad in the majesty of an universal understanding, eyeing the "rich strond," or golden sky above him, and "goes sounding on his way," in eloquent accents, uncompelled and free!

Persons of the greatest capacity are often those, who for this reason do the least; for surveying themselves from the highest point of view, amidst the infinite variety of the universe, their own share in it seems trifling, and scarce worth a thought, and they prefer the contemplation of all that is, or has been, or can be, to the making a coil about doing what, when done, is no better than vanity. It is hard to concentrate all our attention and efforts on one pursuit, except from ignorance of others; and without this concentration of our faculties, no great progress can be made in any one thing. It is not merely that the mind is not capable of the effort; it does not think the effort worth making. Action is one; but thought is manifold. He whose restless eye glances through the wide compass of nature and art, will not consent to have "his own nothings monstered:" but he must do this, before he can give his whole soul to them. The mind, after "letting contemplation have its fill," or

"Sailing with supreme dominion
 Through the azure deep of air,"

sinks down on the ground, breathless, exhausted, powerless, inactive; or if it must have some vent to its feelings, seeks the most easy and obvious; is soothed by friendly flattery, lulled by the murmur of immediate applause, thinks as it were aloud, and babbles in its dreams! A scholar (so to speak) is a more disinterested and abstracted character than a mere author. The first looks at the numberless volumes of a library, and says, "All these are mine:" the other points to a single volume (perhaps it may be an immortal one) and says, "My name is written on the back of it." This is a puny and groveling ambition, beneath the lofty amplitude of Mr. Coleridge's mind. No, he revolves in his wayward soul, or utters to the passing wind, or discourses to his own shadow, things mightier and more various!—Let us draw the curtain, and unlock the shrine.

Learning rocked him in his cradle, and, while yet a child,

"He lisped in numbers, for the numbers came."

At sixteen he wrote his Ode on Chatterton, and he still reverts to that period with delight, not so much as it relates to himself (for that string of his own early promise of fame rather jars than otherwise) but as exemplifying the youth of a poet. Mr. Coleridge talks of himself, without being an egotist, for in him the individual is always merged in the abstract and general. He distinguished himself at school and at the University by his knowledge of the classics, and gained several prizes for Greek epigrams. How many men are there (great scholars, celebrated names in literature) who having done the same thing in their youth, have no other idea all the rest of their lives but of this achievement, of a fellowship and dinner, and who, installed in academic honours, would look down on our author as a mere strolling bard! At Christ's Hospital, where he was brought up, he was the idol of those among his school-fellows, who mingled with their bookish studies the music of thought and of humanity; and he was usually attended round the cloisters by a group of these (inspiring and inspired) whose hearts, even then, burnt within them as he talked, and where the sounds yet linger to mock Elia on his way, still turning pensive to the past! One of the finest and rarest parts of Mr. Coleridge's conversation, is when he expatiates on the Greek tragedians (not that he is not well acquainted, when he pleases, with the epic poets, or the philosophers, or orators, or historians of antiquity)—on the subtle reasonings and melting pathos of Euripides, on the harmonious gracefulness of Sophocles, tuning his love-laboured song, like sweetest warblings from a sacred grove; on the high-wrought trumpet-tongued eloquence of Æschylus, whose Prometheus, above all, is like an Ode to Fate, and a pleading with Providence, his thoughts being let loose as his body is chained on his solitary rock, and his afflicted will (the emblem of mortality)

"Struggling in vain with ruthless destiny."

As the impassioned critic speaks and rises in his theme, you would think you heard the voice of the Man hated by the Gods, contending with the wild winds as they roar, and his eye glitters with the spirit of Antiquity!

Next, he was engaged with Hartley's tribes of mind, "etherial braid, thought-woven,"—and he busied himself for a year or two with vibrations and vibratiuncles and the great law of association that binds all things in its mystic chain, and the doctrine of Necessity (the mild teacher of Charity) and the Millennium, anticipative of a life to come—and he plunged deep into the controversy on Matter and Spirit, and, as an escape from Dr. Priestley's Materialism, where he felt himself imprisoned by the logician's spell, like Ariel in the cloven pine-tree, he became suddenly enamoured of Bishop Berkeley's fairy-world[1], and used in all companies to build the universe, like a brave poetical fiction, of fine words—and he was deep-read in Malebranche, and in Cudworth's Intellectual System (a huge pile of learning, unwieldy, enormous) and in Lord Brook's hieroglyphic theories, and in Bishop Butler's Sermons, and in the Duchess of Newcastle's fantastic folios, and in Clarke and South and Tillotson, and all the fine thinkers and masculine reasoners of that age—and Leibnitz's Pre-established Harmony reared its arch above his head, like the rainbow in the cloud, covenanting with the hopes of man—and then he fell plump, ten thousand fathoms down (but his wings saved him harmless) into the hortus siccus of Dissent, where he pared religion down to the standard of reason and stripped faith of mystery, and preached Christ crucified and the Unity of the Godhead, and so dwelt for a while in the spirit with John Huss and Jerome of Prague and Socinus and old John Zisca, and ran through Neal's History of the Puritans, and Calamy's Non-Conformists' Memorial, having like thoughts and passions with them—but then Spinoza became his God, and he took up the vast chain of being in his hand, and the round world became the centre and the soul of all things in some shadowy sense, forlorn of meaning, and around him he beheld the living traces and the sky-pointing proportions of the mighty Pan—but poetry redeemed him from this spectral philosophy, and he bathed his heart in beauty, and gazed at the golden light of heaven, and drank of the spirit of the universe, and wandered at eve by fairy-stream or fountain,

" ———— When he saw nought but beauty,
 When he heard the voice of that Almighty One
 In every breeze that blew, or wave that murmured"—

and wedded with truth in Plato's shade, and in the writings of Proclus and Plotinus saw the ideas of things in the eternal mind, and unfolded all mysteries with the Schoolmen and fathomed the depths of Duns Scotus and Thomas Aquinas, and entered the third heaven with Jacob Behmen, and walked hand in hand with Swedenborg through the pavilions of the New Jerusalem, and sung his faith in the promise and in the word in his Religious Musings—and lowering himself from that dizzy height, poised himself on Milton's wings, and spread out his thoughts in charity with the glad prose of Jeremy Taylor, and wept over Bowles's Sonnets, and studied Cowper's blankverse, and betook himself to Thomson's Castle of Indolence, and sported with the wits of Charles the Second's days and of Queen Anne, and relished Swift's style and that of the John Bull (Arburthnot's we mean, not Mr. Croker's) and dallied with the British Essayists and Novelists, and knew all qualities of more modern writers with a learned spirit, Johnson, and Goldsmith, and Junius, and Burke, and Godwin, and the Sorrows of Werter, and Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Voltaire, and Marivaux, and Crebillon, and thousands more—now "laughed with Rabelais in his easy chair" or pointed to Hogarth, or afterwards dwelt on Claude's classic scenes or spoke with rapture of Raphael, and compared the women at Rome to figures that had walked out of his pictures, or visited the Oratory of Pisa, and described the works of Giotto and Ghirlandaio and Massaccio, and gave the moral of the picture of the Triumph of Death, where the beggars and the wretched invoke his dreadful dart, but the rich and mighty of the earth quail and shrink before it; and in that land of siren sights and sounds, saw a dance of peasant girls, and was charmed with lutes and gondolas,—or wandered into Germany and lost himself in the labyrinths of the Hartz Forest and of the Kantean philosophy, and amongst the cabalistic names of Fichtè and Schelling and Lessing, and God knows who—this was long after, but all the former while, he had nerved his heart and filled his eyes with tears, as he hailed the rising orb of liberty, since quenched in darkness and in blood, and had kindled his affections at the blaze of the French Revolution, and sang for joy when the towers of the Bastile and the proud places of the insolent and the oppressor fell, and would have floated his bark, freighted with fondest fancies, across the Atlantic wave with Southey and others to seek for peace and freedom—

"In Philarmonia's undivided dale!"

Alas! "Frailty, thy name is Genius!"—What is become of all this mighty heap of hope, of thought, of learning, and humanity? It has ended in swallowing doses of oblivion and in writing paragraphs in the Courier.—Such, and so little is the mind of man!

It was not to be supposed that Mr, Coleridge could keep on at the rate he set off; he could not realize all he knew or thought, and less could not fix his desultory ambition; other stimulants supplied the place, and kept up the intoxicating dream, the fever and the madness of his early impressions. Liberty (the philosopher's and the poet's bride) had fallen a victim, meanwhile, to the murderous practices of the hag, Legitimacy. Proscribed by court-hirelings, too romantic for the herd of vulgar politicians, our enthusiast stood at bay, and at last turned on the pivot of a subtle casuistry to the unclean side: but his discursive reason would not let him trammel himself into a poet-laureate or stamp-distributor, and he stopped, ere he had quite passed that well-known "bourne from whence no traveller returns"—and so has sunk into torpid, uneasy repose, tantalized by useless resources, haunted by vain imaginings, his lips idly moving, but his heart forever still, or, as the shattered chords vibrate of themselves, making melancholy music to the ear of memory! Such is the fate of genius in an age, when in the unequal contest with sovereign wrong, every man is ground to powder who is not either a born slave, or who does not willingly and at once offer up the yearnings of humanity and the dictates of reason as a welcome sacrifice to besotted prejudice and loathsome power.

Of all Mr. Coleridge's productions, the Ancient Mariner is the only one that we could with confidence put into any person's hands, on whom we wished to impress a favourable idea of his extraordinary powers. Let whatever other objections be made to it, it is unquestionably a work of genius—of wild, irregular, overwhelming imagination, and has that rich, varied movement in the verse, which gives a distant idea of the lofty or changeful tones of Mr. Coleridge's voice. In the Christobel, there is one splendid passage on divided friendship. The Translation of Schiller's Wallenstein is also a masterly production in its kind, faithful and spirited. Among his smaller pieces there are occasional bursts of pathos and fancy, equal to what we might expect from him; but these form the exception, and not the rule. Such, for instance, is his affecting Sonnet to the author of the Robbers.

Schiller! that hour I would have wish'd to die,
If through the shudd'ring midnight I had sent
From the dark dungeon of the tower time-rent,
That fearful voice, a famish'd father's cry—

That in no after-moment aught less vast
Might stamp me mortal! A triumphant shout
Black horror scream'd, and all her goblin rout
From the more with'ring scene diminish'd pass'd.

Ah! Bard tremendous in sublimity!
Could I behold thee in thy loftier mood,
Wand'ring at eve, with finely frenzied eye,
Beneath some vast old tempest-swinging wood!
Awhile, with mute awe gazing, I would brood,
Then weep aloud in a wild ecstasy."

His Tragedy, entitled Remorse, is full of beautiful and striking passages, but it does not place the author in the first rank of dramatic writers. But if Mr. Coleridge's works do not place him in that rank, they injure instead of conveying a just idea of the man, for he himself is certainly in the first class of general intellect.

If our author's poetry is inferior to his conversation, his prose is utterly abortive. Hardly a gleam is to be found in it of the brilliancy and richness of those stores of thought and language that he pours out incessantly, when they are lost like drops of water in the ground. The principal work, in which he has attempted to embody his general views of things, is the Friend, of which, though it contains some noble passages and fine trains of thought, prolixity and obscurity are the most frequent characteristics.

No two persons can be conceived more opposite in character or genius than the subject of the present and of the preceding sketch. Mr. Godwin, with less natural capacity, and with fewer acquired advantages, by concentrating his mind on some given object, and doing what he had to do with all his might, has accomplished much, and will leave more than one monument of a powerful intellect behind him; Mr. Coleridge, by dissipating his, and dallying with every subject by turns, has done little or nothing to justify to the world or to posterity, the high opinion which all who have ever heard him converse, or known him intimately, with one accord entertain of him. Mr. Godwin's faculties have kept house, and plied their task in the work-shop of the brain, diligently and effectually: Mr. Coleridge's have gossipped away their time, and gadded about from house to house, as if life's business were to melt the hours in listless talk. Mr. Godwin is intent on a subject, only as it concerns himself and his reputation; he works it out as a matter of duty, and discards from his mind whatever does not forward his main object as impertinent and vain. Mr. Coleridge, on the other hand, delights in nothing but episodes and digressions, neglects whatever he undertakes to perform, and can act only on spontaneous impulses, without object or method. "He cannot be constrained by mastery." While he should be occupied with a given pursuit, he is thinking of a thousand other things; a thousand tastes, a thousand objects tempt him, and distract his mind, which keeps open house, and entertains all comers; and after being fatigued and amused with morning calls from idle visitors, finds the day consumed and its business unconcluded. Mr. Godwin, on the contrary, is somewhat exclusive and unsocial in his habits of mind, entertains no company but what he gives his whole time and attention to, and wisely writes over the doors of his understanding, his fancy, and his senses—"No admittance except on business." He has none of that fastidious refinement and false delicacy, which might lead him to balance between the endless variety of modern attainments. He does not throw away his life (nor a single half-hour of it) in adjusting-the claims of different accomplishments, and in choosing between them or making himself master of them all. He sets about his task, (whatever it may be) and goes through it with spirit and fortitude. He has the happiness to think an author the greatest character in the world, and himself the greatest author in it. Mr. Coleridge, in writing an harmonious stanza, would stop to consider whether there was not more grace and beauty in a Pas de trois, and would not proceed till he had resolved this question by a chain of metaphysical reasoning without end. Not so Mr. Godwin. That is best to him, which he can do best. He does not waste himself in vain aspirations and effeminate sympathies. He is blind, deaf, insensible to all but the trump of Fame. Plays, operas, painting, music, ball-rooms, wealth, fashion, titles, lords, ladies, touch him not—all these are no more to him than to the anchorite in his cell, and he writes on to the end of the chapter, through good report and evil report. Pingo in eternitatem—is his motto. He neither envies nor admires what others are, but is contented to be what he is, and strives to do the utmost he can. Mr. Coleridge has flirted with the Muses as with a set of mistresses: Mr. Godwin has been married twice, to Reason and to Fancy, and has to boast no short-lived progeny by each. So to speak, he has valves belonging to his mind, to regulate the quantity of gas admitted into it, so that like the bare, unsightly, but well-compacted steam-vessel, it cuts its liquid way, and arrives at its promised end: while Mr. Coleridge's bark, "taught with the little nautilus to sail," the sport of every breath, dancing to every wave,

"Youth at its prow, and Pleasure at its helm,"

flutters its gaudy pennons in the air, glitters in the sun, but we wait in vain to hear of its arrival in the destined harbour. Mr. Godwin, with less variety and vividness, with less subtlety and susceptibility both of thought and feeling, has had firmer nerves, a more determined purpose, a more comprehensive grasp of his subject, and the results are as we find them. Each has met with his reward: for justice has, after all, been done to the pretensions of each; and we must, in all cases, use means to ends!

1 Mr. Coleridge named his eldest son (the writer of some beautiful Sonnets) after Hartley, and the second after Berkeley. The third was called Derwent, after the river of that name. Nothing can be more characteristic of his mind than this circumstance. All his ideas indeed are like a river, flowing on for ever, and still murmuring as it flows, discharging its waters and still replenished—

"And so by many winding nooks it strays,
 With willing sport to the wild ocean!"

A Day With Samuel Taylor Coleridge by May Byron

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"Are those her ribs through which the Sun
Did peer, as through a grate?
And is that Woman all her crew?
Is that a Death? and are there two?
Is Death that woman's mate?

"Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold:
Her skin was as white as leprosy....

The naked hulk alongside came,
And the twain were casting dice."

(The Ancient Mariner).


IN a beautiful part of beautiful Somerset, where the "soft orchard and cottage scenery" is dimpled between blue hillslopes, where meadows and woods and translucent streams compete with each other in charm,—in the lovely region of the Quantock hills, lies the quiet little market-village of Nether Stowey. About sunrise on a May morning of 1790, a young man awoke in a little wayside cottage there: and, resolutely thrusting back his natural inclination to indolence, rose and dressed, and set himself to the performance of such humble duties as devolve upon a very poor householder with a wife and child.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was in his twenty-sixth year: pale, stoutish, black-haired: not an immediately attractive man. His face, according to himself, bore evidence of "great sloth and great, indeed almost idiotic, good nature: ... a mere carcase of a face; fat, flabby, and expressive chiefly of inexpressions," with a wide, thick-lipped, always-open mouth, and small feeble nose. Yet it was capable of being roused, on occasion, to something akin to nobility and beauty, and redeemed by the animation of his full, grey eyes. It was a face, in short, to match his general appearance, which he dismissed as that of "indolence capable of energies," and Carlyle characterised as "weakness under possibility of strength."

For this was a man who was consistent in his faults as in his virtues: "always conscious of power, but also conscious of want of will to use his power." And it was therefore with re-doubled vigour, this particular morning, that he put on a spurt, and threw unusual force into his chopping of firewood,—his somewhat clumsy attempts to clean up the cottage, with its poor accommodation and few utensils,—and his valiant if ineffectual endeavours to have the fire lighted and the modest meal en route, whilst his wife, up the ladder stairs, attended to herself and the baby.

Between-whiles he cast admiring glances of the most ardent delight at his garden of an acre and a half, and its glowing mass of apple-bloom,—and at all the luscious greeneries of the May world without. These glimpses into "opening Paradise" went far to compensate him for his determination to keep no servant, but to be maid-of-all-work, and nurse if need be, himself. They ministered to that spirit of contemplation which was the ruling spirit of his life: they were the very texture of dreams....

Soon Sara Coleridge descended and took her share in the domestic preparations. She found fault, after a quick vivacious fashion, with her husband's futile efforts and perplexities. She was the typical incompatible wife for a poet: not only, socially speaking, his inferior, but naturally incapable of sharing his dreams or sympathising with his studies. Yet she was an honest and good-hearted woman; and perhaps, now and then, she felt a certain lack of human warmth in the warmest of human relationships. For there was a tepid quality about Coleridge's affections and his expression of them: fire and fervour were utterly unknown to his pensive, tender, gentle methods. He had no intensity or passion, either in love or friendship: his feelings were steadfast and of an unblemished purity, yet the very fact that they knew neither ebb nor flow, but were always maintained at a calm level, might jar upon the inscrutable mind of a woman. One might almost imagine, as Sara bustled to and fro and scolded her husband with the volubility of a squirrel, that she was anxious to urge him, if but for one moment, out of his invariable laisser faire of amiability.... But no: he remained as placid, as good tempered, as cheerful as ever.

Presently another member of the household appeared, Coleridge's pupil and paying-guest,—worth a precious £70 a year to the lean exchequer,—one Charles Lloyd. He was a young bank-clerk who had poetry on the brain, and found himself ill-attuned to the drudgery of keeping his father's ledgers. He was also subject to epileptic fits, which did not conduce either to poetizing or banking with success. What he expected to learn from Coleridge, it is hard to say: certainly his curriculum included a good many hardships, makeshifts and contretemps to which he had never looked forward. His instructor, however, had not deceived him as to the hybrid nature of his present occupation. Coleridge had deliberately set himself down at Nether Stowey to be near his friend Tom Poole, and to support himself by "a mixture of literature and husbandry." He proposed to make some £60 per annum by reviewing and magazine work: he had an offer from Cottle, the Bristol publisher, for as much verse as he chose to write, at terms working out somewhere near fourpence a line,—and for the rest, "I would rather," he declared, "be an expert self-maintaining gardener than a Milton, for I could not unite both. I mean to raise the vegetables for myself and wife, and feed a couple of snouted and grunting cousins from the refuse. My evenings I shall devote to literature."—"And what," enquired Charles Lamb after hearing of this desperate undertaking, "what does your worship know about farming?" But Coleridge was not to be discouraged. He allowed his natural unfitness for the task—"I am, and ever have been, a great reader, and have read almost everything.... I am deep in all out-of-the-way books, whether of the monkish times or of the Puritanical era. I have read and digested most of the historic writers, but I do not like history. Metaphysics and poetry and 'facts of the mind' (i.e., accounts of all the strange phantasms that ever possessed your philosophy-dreamers, from Thoth, the Egyptian, to Taylor, the English pagan) are my darling studies. In short, I seldom read except to amuse myself, and I am almost always reading. Of useful knowledge,—I am a so-so chemist, and I love chemistry—all else is blank—but I will be (please God) a horticulturist and farmer."

What is to be done against such impregnable obstinacy? Coleridge's friends let him "gang his ain gait": and when mauvais quarts d'heure threatened to drive him to despair, they came to the rescue with timely cheques: meanwhile, Tom Poole strove hard to educate him in potato culture, and Charles Lloyd paid down his twenty-five shillings a week.

But to-day Charles Lloyd was looking ill-at-ease and sulky. He threw out hints about the general discomfort of things,—vague allusions to other people being made much of and himself contemned. He was in a disagreeable mood, and evidently dying to pick a quarrel. Half through breakfast, he took umbrage at some inoffensive jest, and flung himself out of the room.

"What can ail the lad?" asked Coleridge, in amazement.

"I suppose he has another fit coming on," observed the practical Sara.

"I don't like sour looks and bitter words in our peaceful home," said the poet, rumpling his heavy black locks with a distracted air.

"God forbid that he should take it into his head to go away," said Sara: and she got up with a very grave face and proceeded to clear the breakfast table. Coleridge betook himself to the garden and called over the back hedge to the neighbour for whose companionship he had taken this inefficient little cottage. Thomas Poole, his friend and benefactor, was a well-to-do tanner, well-educated and a devout student of literature: he discerned the potentialities of great things in Coleridge, and felt honoured by his acquaintanceship. For the poet had something of that peculiar fascination for more prosaic men, that magnetic charm of personality, which atones for so many minor defects,—which obviates weakness and ill-balance of mind,—which even endears him who is "impossible" from a worldly standpoint, to those of saner and robuster calibre. Coleridge could never be without a friend, without a listener: and a listener was a desideratum to him. This "noticeable man with large grey eyes" undoubtedly attracted to himself all that was best in other people: his culture allured them, his eloquence held them spell-bound, and his voice—that wonderful voice which was to Hazlitt "as a stream of rich distilled perfumes"—sank into every fibre of their being.

So you cannot be surprised that the faithful, kindly Thomas Poole, already busy in his tan-yard, hearing Coleridge calling at the hedge, instantly forsook his proper tasks and hurried to salute his comrade. When he heard of Charles Lloyd's tendency towards mutiny, "Oh," says Poole with a great laugh, "don't let that discompose you. The young man is consumed by a very common malady,—jealousy. And indeed I think he has some cause."

"Jealousy!" repeated Coleridge, rolling his fine eyes wildly. It was a word which had little or no meaning for him. "Jealousy of whom? about whom?—I do not understand you in the least."

"Why, your fine friends the Wordsworths, of course," Poole told him. "Here have you been gadding about with them the whole of this last twelve-month, trapesing the hills night and day and leaving your pupil, forsooth, to sit at home with Madam and Master Baby, a-twiddling his thumbs and scribbling schoolboy verse. You have taken precious little notice of him,—and as for your friends, they think him but a poor thing not worth mention. I say he is a lad of spirit to kick up his heels at last."

"True, true,—I may have neglected him to some extent," murmured Coleridge with a pained air, "but indeed, my good Poole, if you knew what the Wordsworths have been to me! Manna in the desert—water in the wilderness—happiness like the alighting of a paradise-bird—"

"Quite so, my dear fellow," interrupted the unemotional Poole, "but you are not now in the pulpit. Bring yourself down to earth for a moment, for I have but little time to spare this morning,—and let us see what are the most crying needs of to-day in your garden."

There is enough to do in a May garden to occupy the most diligent: and as Coleridge raked and hoed and thinned out and weeded his vegetable beds, with blistered hands and a back that longed for a hinge in it, he was inclined to wish that Lloyd had come as an agricultural rather than a poetical pupil. From time to time he rested on his tool and assimilated with rapt eye the innumerable surrounding touches of simple beauty. He was a man who, like Wordsworth, interested himself in every little trifle. The delicate details of sight and sound were very dear to him; they had enabled him to "become one with Nature" in an almost literal sense, as he observed, with a calm but intense enjoyment, such side-issues as:

The one red leaf, the last of its clan,
That dances as often as dance it can,
Hanging so light and hanging so high,
On the topmost twig that looks up at the sky;


The unripe flax,
When through its half-transparent stalks, at eve,
The level sunshine glitters with green light;


The hornéd Moon, with one bright star
Within the nether tip.

And, indeed, Coleridge was aware himself of the extraordinary power which was exercised upon him by external and visible things,—especially by the magic of scenery. He wrote:

"But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!"
(Kubla Khan).

I never find myself alone within the embracement of rocks and hills ... but my spirit careers, drives and eddies like a leaf in autumn; a wild activity of thoughts, imaginations, feelings and impulses of motion rises up within me.... The further I ascend from animated nature ... the greater in me becomes the intensity of the feeling of life. Life seems to me then a universal spirit, that neither has nor can have an opposite. God is everywhere, and where is there room for death?

And he determinedly developed in his theory of poetry, his sense of the depths that lie below nature's more superficial aspects. He had accorded to his sleeping babe, a few short months before, that tenderest of all benedictions, that gift of untarnishable joy:

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon:

and he had conversed at great length and frequency with Wordsworth, on what he termed "the two cardinal points of poetry—the power of exciting the sympathy of the reader by a faithful adherence to the truth of nature and the power of giving the interest of novelty by the modifying colours of imagination. The sudden charm which accidents of light and shade, which moonlight or sunset diffused over a known and familiar landscape, appeared to represent the practicability of combining both. These are the poetry of nature." He had no greater pleasure possible than to steep himself in "the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us: an inexhaustible treasure," he proclaimed, "but for which, in consequence of the film of familiarity and selfish solitude, we have eyes, yet see not, ears that hear not and hearts that neither feel nor understand." And when his imagination craved some wilder and more romantic outlook than the peaceful village where,

beside one friend,
Beneath the impervious covert of one oak,
I've raised a lowly shed, and know the names
Of Husband and of Father,—

that imagination could at will supply its wants. His eyes could "make pictures when they are shut," and could carry him momentarily, as on some magic carpet, to a dreamland beyond the limitations of mortal experience. The same exquisite and meticulous perception which enabled Coleridge to realize and remember the double sound of rain, the "quiet sounds from hidden rills," among the heather, the slanting shower of blossoms on the "faint gale of departing May,"—revealed to him how

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
· · · · · · · Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!

Such, in fact, was the dual capacity of Coleridge's mind,—such its ability to commingle the actual and the imaginary, that whilst he could at one moment paint the gentle English landscape in which he dwelt,—

Low was our pretty Cot; our tallest Rose
Peeped at the chamber-window. We could hear
At silent noon, and eve, and early morn,
The Sea's faint murmur. In the open air
Our Myrtles blossom'd; and across the Porch
Thick Jasmins twin'd: the little landscape round,
Was green and woody, and refresh'd the eye.
It was a spot which you might aptly call
The Valley of Seclusion!

he was enabled to describe, with the verisimilitude of perfect memory, the dim sea-reaches where,—

... Now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald.
And through the drifts the snowy clifts
Did send a dismal sheen:
Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken—
The ice was all between.
The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound!
At length did cross an Albatross,—
Through the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God's name.
It ate the food it ne'er had eat,
And round and round it flew.
The ice did split with a thunder-fit;
The helmsman steered us through!

But now, while the sun poured down hotter and still hotter rays upon the unaccustomed back of Coleridge, he heard the hearty voice of Tom Poole, summoning him to the bark-built arbour under the big elm-trees. A jug of egg-flip and a delightful chat were awaiting him: the bees were humming round in the "lime-tree bower" of the garden: and the deep, vibrating voice of the poet, roused to unwonted exhilaration, was presently moved to declaim one of his own magnificent imitations from Schiller, The Visit of the Gods. His recitation rose like a chant in its music and sonority.

Never, believe me,
Appear the Immortals,
Never alone:
Scarce had I welcomed the Sorrow-beguiler,
Iacchus! but in came Boy Cupid the Smiler;
Lo! Phoebus the Glorious descends from his Throne!
They advance, they float in, the Olympians all!
With Divinities fills my
Terrestrial Hall!
How shall I yield you
Due entertainment,
Celestial Quire?
Me rather, bright guests! with your wings of upbuoyance
Bear aloft to your homes, to your banquets of joyance,
That the roofs of Olympus may echo my lyre!
Ha! we mount! on their pinions they waft up my soul!
O give me the Nectar!
O fill me the Bowl!
"At length did cross an Albatross,—
Through the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God's name."
(The Ancient Mariner).

"Indeed, one might easily forget all mundane matters upon a day like this," mused the poet as he became rested and refreshed. "It is not a day for doing, Poole,—for digging and forking and stooping,—it was meant for dreaming, for endless reveries of eternal beauty."

"That is not likely ever to be my lot," said the matter-of-fact Poole, "Too much to see after."

"It might be mine, perhaps, did I choose...." observed Coleridge, with the abstracted air of one talking in his sleep, "Have I ever told you, Poole, of the offer I have had from the Wedgwood brothers?"

"The china-man's sons?" Poole queried.

"The same," said Coleridge. "They have offered me an annuity for life, of £140 a year, to prevent my being obliged to abandon poetry and philosophy, as I must do if I take up preaching professionally."

"It is a vastly fine offer!" exclaimed the astonished Poole.

"On the other hand," continued his friend, "the Unitarian Chapel people at Shrewsbury will pay me £120 a year to become their preacher: and that means that I give up literary work. I cannot combine both. Hitherto, as you know, I have refused to accept any remuneration for my sermons: to be a hireling is against my principles: when I go to Taunton or Bridgewater, I do it freely. But here are these two proposals, and I know not which to accept. I freely confess to you, Poole, what you probably know already,—that I am very seriously worried over money matters, and that I perceive I can never support my family by manual labour. My play Osorio, which Sheridan requested me to write for Drury Lane, has been rejected: I have no talent, I fear, for the drama. I am too tired after work in an evening to do any reviewing or writing. And now I am threatened by the prospect of Lloyd leaving us—that means the loss of our main income. A sort of calm hopelessness diffuses itself over my heart. Indeed, every mode of life which promised me bread and cheese has been torn away from me: but God remains."

This long speech was not without effect upon the kind-hearted Poole. Pocketing certain twinges of what in Charles Lloyd he had defined as jealousy, he asked, "And what does your friend Mr. Wordsworth say? You are so constantly in his company, that I should suppose he would be a very fit judge of the best course for you to take."

"Oh, Wordsworth,—well, need you ask? Of course he urges me to accept the Wedgwoods' generosity, and devote myself to poetical work alone. But my mind misgives me, lest in doing that I should be turning my back upon the service of God. Am I not more efficacious for good as a preacher than as a versifier?"

"We-ell, I don't know," muttered Poole, "We can all read your poems, you see, but we can't all follow you about the west-country to listen to you,—we can't track you to chapels at Taunton, or Bridgewater, or Shrewsbury, however eloquent you may be. Not but what," he added with a sly twinkle, "you do a pretty fairish deal of preaching in private."

"That's what Lamb said," remarked Coleridge, "I asked him if he had ever heard me preach, and he said, 'M-my d-dear f-fellow, I n-n-never heard you do anything else!' A trifle flippant at times, is our good Lamb.... But who's this?"—and he sprang from his seat with unwonted energy.

"Oh, it's your friends from Alfoxden," said Poole: and, with the resigned expression of one relegated to a back seat, he picked up the empty flip-jug and glasses, and returned to his own domain.

Two people were coming down Coleridge's garden,—a "gaunt and Don-Quixote-like" man in striped pantaloons and a brown fustian jacket, and a slender, pleasing, dark-haired woman in her early twenties. They were William and Dorothy Wordsworth: names dearer than any to the contemplative heart of Coleridge. For nearly a year they had been tenants of Alfoxden Manor-house, about a mile away among the hills: for nearly a year they had been his constant companions, his solace, his inspiration. To their example and society he owed, as he allowed, the awakening and consummation of his genius: for although the "magic and melody" of his verse were all his own,—that magic unsurpassed and unsurpassable, "altogether beyond price," and that melody,

Such a soft floating witchery of sound
As twilight Elfins make, when they at eve
Voyage on gentle gales from Fairy Land,
Where melodies round heavy-dropping flowers,
Footless and wild, like birds of Paradise,
Nor pause, nor push, hovering on untam'd wing!
(The Eolian Harp)

yet it was Wordsworth who had helped him to "find himself," and it was Dorothy whose influence on both men called out their best and deepest. "Three people but one soul," Coleridge had called this ideally-united trio of himself and his friends; and as "three people with one soul," they "walked on seaward Quantock's heathy hills," and had every thought in common.

"We are off for a long walk this lovely noon," explained Dorothy, "and taking our lunch with us: will you come, Mr. Coleridge?" A very hasty wash and brush, and a hurried goodbye to Sara, and the poet had forsaken a distasteful employment for a singularly congenial one. Over the hills and far away, he could postpone for the nonce every workaday question which troubled him, and, deep in the abstrusest consideration of poetry, or speculation of philosophy, could steep himself in the calm which was his ultimate desire.

He had a host of projects to discuss. He had planned, in collaboration with Wordsworth, a "great book of Man and Nature and Society, to be symbolized by a brook in its course from upland source to sea:" much on the lines of his own strophe from the German:

Unperishing youth!
Thou leapest from forth
The cell of thy hidden nativity;
Never mortal saw
The cradle of the strong one;
Never mortal heard
The gathering of his voices;
The deep-murmur'd charm of the son of the rock,
That is lisped evermore at his slumberless fountain.
There's a cloud at the portal, a spray-woven veil
At the shrine of his ceaseless renewing;
It embosoms the roses of dawn,
It entangles the shafts of the noon,
And into the bed of its stillness
The moonshine sinks down as in slumber,
That the son of the rock, that the nursling of heaven
May be born in a holy twilight!

He had begun the Ancient Mariner upon a previous walking-tour, also as a joint composition with the other poet, but had taken it into his own hands and finally completed it this spring. He had an immense proposal for an epic, which should take ten years for collecting material, five for writing and five for revising—nobody could accuse Coleridge of undue haste! He had undertaken a translation of Wieland's Oberon, which was likely to be more troublesome than remunerative. But most of all he desired to ascertain his friends' criticism on his newest fragment, Christabel: the bulk of his achievements were but fragmentary at the best.

"There she sees a damsel bright,
Drest in a silken robe of white,
That shadowy in the moonlight shone:
The neck that made that white robe wan,
Her stately neck, and arms were bare.
· · · · · · And wildly glittered here and there
The gems entangled in her hair."

Coleridge's mind was that extremely rara avis in terra, which combines the artistic with the philosophic temperament—two inherently-opposed qualities. His acute and sensitive perceptions of sound, sight, colour and romantic possibility did not in the least satisfy his heavy logical demands. Of art for art's sake he had the poorest opinion. He was of dual nature,—and where the philosopher, the metaphysician and the divine preponderated in him, they completely over-weighted the exquisite, ethereal imagination, which was so infinitely more precious, had he known it. And although in this golden year of his life, this annus mirabilis